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Late Winter Chores - More on Pruning

by Dan Eskelson on Apr 30, 2012

Hooray! - it's almost time to get off my rear and go out to prune my trees and shrubs. The only outdoor exercise I've had all winter is shoveling a bit of snow and splitting a little wood. The cure for cabin fever is insight.

For those of you who are new to the art and science of pruning, take a look at some introductory concepts online.  So much good is accomplished by proper pruning technique, but so much damage can be inflicted by ignorance - this is one gardening technique that you really must understand thoroughly. Or you should understand enough to know when to seek professional advice or services. Any work that requires a chain saw should be left to a professional, unless you are very adept at this work *and* understand the principles of pruning.

Ideally, all your pruning cuts are made when growth is very young, so hand shears and long-handled pruning loppers are the main tools. If you *do* have some old, neglected trees, take care not to bring them to ideal shape in one pruning session. Severely altering the root to top growth balance can shock older trees, possibly causing serious damage. I have always spread out this type of remedial pruning to two or three seasons. If you're the hardy type that doesn't mind the cold, you can prune now, as long as the temperature is above 18 degrees - below that temperature wood will be brittle, and cuts may not be clean.

A chore that often follows pruning is dormant oil application. This is the most important insect control of the entire year...and it's completely non-toxic. The oil, when applied properly to dormant trees and shrubs, suffocates over-wintering insect eggs. By eliminating the insects before they hatch, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble later on. I use a product called Crocker's Fish Oil. It not only will suffocate the insect eggs, but also will feed the plant with a natural source of nitrogen and other essential nutrients. Though not common in the "mega stores" or even most nurseries, you can order organic agriculture through the internet.

If you didn't do it in fall, now is a good time for garden "housekeeping". Clean up piles of leaves, broken branches, rotten fruit and other organic matter that may be sheltering overwintering insects. Inspect, oil and sharpen your hand tools, and inspect and perform necessary maintenance on power tools. Once the gardening season arrives, you won't want to be cursing at your mower, tiller or edger because it won't start. Well, I'm sure you can find some other chores at your place to keep your spirits soaring toward Spring. Some time in the next month or two, we'll realize that Spring is here, and there is a whole lot of things to get done.

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